Delicatessen (1991, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

Delicatessen is often adorable. There’s a romance between Dominique Pinon and Marie-Laure Dougnac; they’re both adorable, so Delicatessen is often adorable. They’re star-crossed, though Pinon doesn’t know it (Dougnac does), living in a post-apocalyptic future where people eat people (though there are some vegetarians, but they’re considered terrorists).

I suppose they’d actually be vegan, give all the animals are gone.

Anyway, Pinon works for Dougnac’s father–Jean-Claude Dreyfus–as a handyman in Dreyfus’s building. Dreyfus is mainly a butcher. He hires handymen, kills them, sells their meat to his tenants. Delicatessen is rather dark, but never too dark. Darius Khondji shoots the film with a haze (mostly greenish) and directors Caro and Jeunet are extremely expressionistic with their composition. But even without that visual distance, the film never tries harder than farce. Peculiar farce to be sure, but farce.

Dougnac isn’t happy with her father–who doesn’t care his daughter’s falling for his next victim and is more than happy to foist her off to the gross postman (Chick Ortega). The mail service’s fascist, post-apocalypse. Ortega’s dimwit. Dougnac doesn’t welcome the dimwit fascist’s violent affections. She much prefers Pinon, who used to be a clown with a chimpanzee sidekick.

Delicatessen has a lot of style. But it never wants to talk too much about that style. For instance, it would appear the apocalypse happened sometime in the fifties, but it’s immaterial to the story. It does provide some mood–particularly for Pinon, who’s excellent and able to find a lot of nuance in the part. Of course, he does have the most thoroughly realized part in the script. But he’s just one of the many excellent performances.

Caro and Jeunet get some phenomenal performances of Delicatessen’s cast. Dougnac, for instance, is better than Pinon, even without as much nuance. She’s got the family problems with Dreyfus, but they don’t get anywhere near as much attention as Pinon’s backstory. His backstory crosses subplots, bringing in Dreyfus’s lover Karin Viard (she’s his lover for free meat), for example. Pinon’s the mystery to be discovered, even though he’s the one in danger from the mystery he has yet to discover.

Most of the first half deals with Pinon getting situated at the building and the film introducing the various other residents. Silvie Laguna, who keeps trying to kill herself with these Rube Goldberg contraptions, gets a lot to do even though she doesn’t really figure into the main plot. Delicatessen is always willing to meander, especially in the first half. In the second half, there’s just not enough time because it all of a sudden becomes very intense. Even with the film played for humor–the revolutionary force of de facto vegans are silly looking guys (all guys) in raincoats–once Dreyfus decides it’s time for Pinon to go, Delicatessen all of a sudden gets rather dangerous.

Because for all the cannibalism and post-apocalyptic whatnot, it’s always a lot of fun. Not even gross fun. There’s more hinted gore in the introduction than in the rest of the film. It primes the viewer, gets them on edge, but Caro and Jeunet use that attention for other things.

Like that touching love story between Pinon and Dougnac.

So Pinon, Dougnac, and Dreyfus are great. Viard’s good but she doesn’t have much of a part (she’s excellent in the situational stuff). Ortega’s good. Anne-Marie Pisani is real good. Laguna’s great. Rufus is great (he’s got a crush on married Laguna). All the revolutionaries are fine. They’re played a lot broader than anything else. How could they not be with the raincoats and headlamps.

Technically, the film’s marvelous. Caro and Jeunet’s composition, Khondji’s photography, Caro’s production design, the costumes, all of it. But then there’s Hervé Schneid’s editing, which is exquisite. And might be why the film can get away with what it gets away with. The cuts, especially in the third act action sequence, smoothly move between the contrary, exaggerated shots. It’s marvelous.

Delicatessen is beautifully acted, technically marvelous, imaginative but unfocused farce.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet; written by Jeunet, Caro, and Gilles Adrien; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Hervé Schneid; music by Carlos D’Alessio; production designer, Caro; produced by Claudie Ossard; released by Union Générale Cinématographique.

Starring Dominique Pinon (Louison), Marie-Laure Dougnac (Julie Clapet), Jean-Claude Dreyfus (Clapet), Karin Viard (Mademoiselle Plusse), Chick Ortega (Postman), Ticky Holgado (Marcel Tapioca), Anne-Marie Pisani (Madame Tapioca), Silvie Laguna (Aurore Interligator), Jean-François Perrier (Georges Interligator), Rufus (Robert Kube), Jacques Mathou (Roger), Boban Janevski (Young Rascal), Mikael Todde (Young Rascal), Edith Ker (Grandmother), Patrick Paroux (Puk), Maurice Lamy (Pank), Marc Caro (Fox), and Howard Vernon (Frog Man).


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